Saturday, March 20, 2004

Bengals, Sapp close in on deal


Tackle sleeping on four-year offer; agent says Cincinnati is 'frontrunner'

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals are close to a deal with Warren Sapp.

Drew Rosenhaus, agent for the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, said late Friday that the Bengals are the "frontrunner."

"We're close. We don't have an agreement yet, but we're getting close," Rosenhaus said.

Sapp, 31, was going to sleep on the offer overnight Friday. He could agree to terms of a four-year contract as early as today.

Signing Sapp would be the most important acquisition by the Bengals since NFL free agency started in 1993. His celebrity transcends football. Sapp would bring his larger-than-life personality to Cincinnati and give the Bengals their highest-profile player since quarterback Boomer Esiason in the late 1980s.

Putting Sapp in Bengals stripes also would add a new degree of legitimacy to the Bengals' rebuilding efforts.

Sapp, a nine-year veteran and one of the league's most disruptive defensive tackles, has talked with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis - who last fall put Sapp in the same playmaking class as Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

In nine seasons, Sapp has 77 sacks and has started 130 of 140 games played. An unrestricted free agent, he has 398 career tackles.

The Bengals, as policy, do not comment on free agents until they are signed or their visits are reported to the NFL office in New York.

The Bengals also signed a couple of role players - wide receiver Patrick Johnson and cornerback Reggie Myles - earlier Friday, while continuing their pursuit of Sapp.

The Bengals signed unrestricted free agent Johnson to a one-year contract and re-signed exclusive rights free agent Myles to a one-year contract.

Both moves figure to bolster the Bengals' improving special teams. Johnson, one of the fastest players in the NFL, will likely take over as the No. 1 kickoff return specialist. The team's kickoff returner, Brandon Bennett, signed Thursday as a free agent with Tampa Bay.

In 2003 with the Redskins, Johnson averaged 23.8 yards on 13 kickoff returns and ranked seventh in special teams tackles with 10. In six NFL season, the first four in Baltimore, Johnson has 82 receptions for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"Pat wants a chance to be a premier returner in the league," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We've been looking for a guy with speed and explosiveness to do that."

Johnson, 27, also will challenge for playing time as a receiver.

"We get a speed, skilled receiver who adds veteran leadership," Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "He has real fast football speed. The more fast guys you can get, the better."

Johnson and the Bengals top receiver, Chad Johnson, will be two fast deep threats for strong-armed quarterback Carson Palmer. One of the reasons Lewis chose Palmer to start over 2003 incumbent Jon Kitna is the team's desire to throw the ball vertically more often.

Patrick Johnson's signing could open the door for the Bengals to withdraw their tender offer to restricted free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who spent an injury-plagued 2003 season on the roster.

Myles, 24, led Bengals' special teams with 21 tackles in 2003 and has a chance for his role to expand on defense.

"Reggie was one of our most consistent special teams players," Lewis said. "He played safety in college, and he is making the transition to cornerback. He is a young player in that spot. He has very good speed and great toughness."

Myles also has the respect of teammates, who voted him as one of the team's four permanent captains.

Myles might get a long look to get on the field as a backup cornerback.

On Friday, the Bengals failed to land another veteran free agent cornerback, Bobby Taylor.

Jason Medlock, Taylor's agent, said that Taylor is close to signing with the Seattle Seahawks. The Bengals had made an offer and received a counter-offer on Monday.

Word is that the Bengals and Taylor were in the ballpark on salary before Taylor's visit to Paul Brown Stadium. Then, once he arrived, he and Medlock were believed to insist on playing-time incentives. The Bengals thought they already were paying him starter's money.

FREE AGENCY: Day 17

Bengals free agent action Friday:

BENGALS CONFIRMED: The team signed free agent wide receiver Patrick Johnson to a one-year contract and re-signed exclusive rights free agent cornerback Reggie Myles to a one-year contract.

SAPP WATCH: The Bengals are closer to a four-year deal with Warren Sapp. The free agent defensive tackle might accept the offer as early as today.

TAYLOR WATCH: Free agent cornerback Bobby Taylor will sign with the Seahawks by Monday. "He's not going to play (with the Bengals)," agent Jason Medlock said. "We're very close with Seattle."

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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